Drugs of the modern world: shopping, work, computers, sweets, tobacco, coffee…
All these cause addiction and can have tragic effects
By Mihaela Gheorghiu
Some of the drugs of the modern world are genuine vices and are known as such – for example tobacco. Others seem “innocent”, like, for example, consuming sweets, but they hide deadly dangers. We say that all these are “drugs” because they cause addiction. Addiction was talked about in the beginning just in the medical domain, with strict reference to alcohol or drugs. Recently however, newer dependencies appeared, some of them even bizarre, like addiction on shopping or work.
As human beings we depend upon certain conditions to stay alive. We need to breath fresh air, drink pure water and eat healthly. Any deviation from fulfilling these fundamental needs leads to sickness or even to death. Until what point however do our needs go and where does addiction start? Consumer society made on a base of states of frustration and unhappiness creates all sorts of false needs, which most of the time lead to the most foolish and weird dependencies.
Initially addiction was defined as “a state of chronic intoxication, characterized by a stringent necessity to use some substance or medication”. Until not long ago only addiction to alcohol and drugs was known. Today they talk about mental and emotional addictions. Psychologists consider that addiction is an illness which appears in order to replace unfulfilled desires, frustrations and unhappiness. Consuming the “drug” creates a a momentarily deceptive state of good, followed by an increase of the necessary dosage in order to obtain the desired effect. This drug thus becomes falsely considered to be the source of the coveted satisfaction.
As long as they are kept in the trap of addiction, they will deny vehemently addiction. With how much addiction is accepted and encouraged in society, like the addiction to coffee and sweets, it is much harder is to be aware of them, being considered by the one involved something “normal” because “everyone does it”. However in the cases where the addicted person proposes to give up to the drug, they will realize the tragic situation in which they find themselves, having then have the impression that they cannot give up the drug without endangering their physical and psycho-emotional integrity. In advanced cases of addiction by certain noxious substances things are the same. For example, the sudden stop of alcohol or of narcotics can unleash in these cases powerful criseses and even death.
Tobacco producers have all kinds of tricks to increase addiction
What makes people smoke? This is a question which intensely preoccupies physicians and psychologists aware of the disastrous effects of smoking. Not always on the other side of the fence, tobacco producers and marketing experts also seek the answer to this question in order to assure more consumers.
It was said that smoking represented a way to break the ice in relationships with others or that it is a social phenomenon, born from the need to be accepted by the group. Then, those smokers actually seek to live again that good state from the time when they were breastfed. It was also said about the feeling of security smokers feel when they have a cigarette in their hand. However, more and more scientists draw attention recently on the consumers’ manipulation by the big tobacco producer companies.
Scientists from Harvard University published a recent study in the “New Scientist” magazine which shows that producers have constantly increased the nicotine concentration in cigarettes. So that presently cigarettes can be found with 11% more nicotine than in 1998, which makes quitting smoking much more difficult. This discovery explains also the bigger number of diseases and premature deaths registered among smokers. As statistics from World Health Organization (WHO) show, 90% of cancer cases are caused by smoking. Also WHO recently accused the tobacco companies of targeting young people from underdeveloped countries in order to compensate their decrease of sales in the industrialized countries.
Along these direct methods to assure a bigger profit, manipulation is accomplished through the means of adverts where smoking is associated with freedom or sexuality – aspects increasingly wished-for by the majority of people. Smoking, they live with the illusion that they are freer, sexier, and trendier; more in control of their life, when in fact they become more and more dependent and sick. Thus it explains why the majority of smokers ignore so easily the message “Tobacco seriously damages health”, stamped on all cigarette packages and adverts.
The way, in which these cigarette packets are made, represent a form of manipulation. Writer Michael Tsarion, famous internationally for his studies concerning the subversive usage of symbols, shares with us his conclusions: “cigarette packages are designed on measures respecting the gold proportion. That is why people are so attracted by them. Why are children’s beds not produced and designed on similar dimensions?”- he asked.
Statistics are alarming: a study made in 2006 by the National Anti-drug Agency in our country shows that 65.8% of people from high school and 76% of people with higher education are smoking. One third of the smokers use tobacco everyday. 64% of 16 year old teenagers and 32 % of 14 year old teenagers have already experimented with tobacco. 90% of smoking parents use cigarettes in front of their children.
Coffee does not do us any good
“Coffee should be black as hell and strong as death,” says an old Turkish proverb. The comparison with hell and death are significant, considering its noxious effects upon health.
“Morning coffee became a ritual for me”, “I can’t think until I drink my coffee” or “What can I offer you? – a coffee?” are frequently used phrases. According to some statistics from Nestle, around the world 4,000 cups of coffee per second are drunk. In Europe coffee consumption is estimated to rise to a third of water consumption. Regarding Romania however, coffee companies seem to have made plans too grand. Romanians drink 5 times less coffee then “they should” according to economic estimations recorded on European level.
Consequently efforts to convince Romanians to drink more coffee have intensified. There is not any series of adverts on TV which does not show at least one spot for a coffee brand. In some of them they show a sleepy person with his feet up until he drinks a sip of coffee and then he starts to awaken. Advertisers know very well what they do when they create these kind of associations. Here is an example: how the company named Elite, Romanian market leader in this segment, guarantees its consumers dependency. We quote from the presentation made by this company for their new advertising spots for Selected coffee – Selected lovers: “The Selected world is full of enthusiasm and pleasure; any moment brings a new dimension and new meaning. Selected changes common moments in unforgettable moments of magic and romance”. We really need a coffee to be optimistic and to enjoy our life?
Another lie is the presentation of the coffee as being like a preparation of plants, natural which therefore cannot be bad. Leaving aside all the numerous aromas, E numbers, additives and sweeteners which our daily coffee contains, we are truly talking about a fruit of a plant, more exactly its grains. But to say that drinking coffee is consuming a plant is like saying that we drink tea made of chamomile flowers burnt and transformed into ashes.
Added to this are the efforts to especially present the so called “positive effects” of coffee and to hide the warnings regarding its negative effects. Scanning the written press we find a wealth of titles like “Coffee doesn’t affect the heart”, “Coffee prevents diabetes”, and “Coffee keeps men younger”. Their contents most of the time present cases of irrelevant studies, realized on a very small number of cases or even on information, which have no connection to the title. For example, the title “Coffee keeps men younger” attracts attention by the fact that suggests a connection between coffee and potency; otherwise it would not be necessary to specify that it is talking about men. In the article it is explained that just “three cups of coffee per day leads to a small decrease of the cognitive capacities of the men”. It does not detail what these capacities are and they don’t give actual numbers. But those men who skim the same newspaper and read only the title can remain with the impression that drinking coffee will keep their capacities from youth.
The so called positive effects of the coffee, so intensely speculated, are only momentary effects. Through its caffeine content coffee has the effect of stimulating, increasing vigilance, combating sleepiness and raised blood pressure. That is why many people have convinced themselves to use it in the morning in order to awaken faster. All these represent however a violation of the body functions created by an intense excitement of the system from adrenaline secretion. The organism is thus forced to consume rapidly its energetic resources, something usually followed by drowsiness, apathy and tiredness and in most of the cases by the necessity for consuming another cup of coffee.
The negative effects of consuming coffee are much more numerous than the so-called benefits. Caffeine induces accelerated beating of the heart and gives palpitations. Also caffeine induces irritability, agitation, nervousness and diminishes the capacity of concentration. Studies show that people who do not consume coffee have much better results in exams, although 60% of students drink coffee during exams. Many people suffering from constipation drink coffee in the morning on an empty stomach in order to help ththeir elimination. Nothing more mistaken! Cofeol, another substance contained in coffee, is noxious to the digestive system, giving gastric burns and abdominal cramps. Additionally, caffeine disturbs the water balance in the organism leading to dehydration.
Suddenly quitting coffee has secondary effects which last, generally, many weeks and include headaches, sensations of fatigue, drowsiness and continuous exhaustion. This is the clearest evidence of the existence of an addiction. Instead of coffee, tea can be successfully consumed – for example, green tea, they have not just remarkably stimulating effects but also many other collateral benefits.
Sugar – “white death”
The Germans named it “white death” with good reason, because sugar is a chemical product industrially processed, therefore is unnatural and unsuitable for human consumption. Nevertheless people consume it in bigger and bigger quantities. If in 1880 the consumption of sugar a person was 8 kg per year, presently this is now 80 kg per year and it is still growing. Also increasing is the quantity of hidden sugar, which we ingest from products normally considered to be salty, like ketchup (23 %sugar), cornflakes (8%sugar), bread or the majority of canned products.
Most people don’t consider sugar addiction as serious as that of cigarette or alcohol addiction. After all, how dangerous can be a chocolate or a glass of juice, they say…However they have reasons to worry as sugar acts exactly as a drug, it starts the release in the brain of some substances called opioid which creates a sensation of pleasure. The zones of the brain which it activates when we desire something sweet are the same with those which it activates in the cases of addicts when they need drugs. in order to demonstrate that sugar is a similar drug to opium, morphine or heroine, scientists administered to some sweets lovers a medicine which blocks the release of the opioids. A short time after this treatment the subjects no longer showed an interest for sweets.
White sugar is extremely dangerous for health. Through refining the complex chain of carbohydrates is broken and these arrive suddenly in the blood where they produce a rapid discharge of energy. This is followed by a falling, because of the body’s efforts to restore balance to the level of glucides. Hence lots of health problems occur: metabolism disorder, immunity system affects, digestive disorders, the increased level of fats in the blood, diabetes, obesity, teeth problems, cardio-vascular problems, vitamin B deficit. Vitamin B is consumed in great quantities for assimilating glucides. The body thus needs to call on its reserves of Vitamin B in order to metabolize the sugar consumed in ever bigger quantities and thus becomes tired, depressed, has difficulties in concentration, memory and perception and even neurosis. Additionally the contribution of sugar grants only a sensation of satisfaction for a moment, but it doesn’t bring for the body the necessary nutriments it needs.
Like in the case of coffee or other noxious substances there is lots of effort made to convince the public of the advantages of consuming sugar and to minimize its multiple negative effects. The arguments used are mostly hilarious. For example, in such an article or propaganda published by the Romanian newspaper “Evenimentul Zilei” in November 2006 we read: “Is sugar really that bad? The main disadvantages are well known. It seems that we are forgetting its qualities: improving the taste of many foods, supplying energy almost instantly. Besides its role it plays in dental decay, sugar it is not noxious, used in moderate quantities.” We showed above that for a long time it can no longer be talked about moderate quantities in regard to sugar consumption.
In parallel with such propagandistic actions there are genuine campaigns to discredit natural and healthy sweeteners, like honey, for example. Here we quote from a manipulative article published in the Romanian newspaper “Ziarul” in September 2006 entitled “The honey that kills”: “The syndrome of “mad honey” is not a well known disease, however it is in expansion. Because of the similar symptoms and other affections the disease is harder to identify. American specialists who made studies estimated that at the root of the many cases of “mad honey” syndrome is the more and more emphasized tendency of people to consume more natural products, among which one is honey. The disease is, in fact, a serious intoxication with honey, more precisely with honey made by bees from the pollen gathered by them from flowers toxic to humans. If it is not discovered and treated, the disease can cause death, underlined the American scientists. They also stated that the most dangerous honey is that fromthe Black Sea region.”
The root of the invention of this disease is in fact a great economic problem: more people chose to consume honey instead of sugar. That it is an invented disease is also confirmed in the same article. “The lucky ones” who are not mislead by the title of the article and have the patience to read it until the end find out from a specialist in biochemistry at the Institute of Apiarian Researches that plants which could give toxic honey live at very high altitudes where bees have no access and also that bees never confuse toxic plants with the nourishing ones…
Thus, use honey confidently instead of sugar! Even if you presently eat chocolate, consume refreshing beverages or cakes, notice the reactions. The more sugar you eat the more you will want it, because sugar generates a sweet-hunger which is impossible to diminish. When you consume honey you will observe that, on the contrary, after just one spoon you will feel nourished and content. Also, you can eat fresh or dried fruits as many times as you feel the need of something sweet.
More and more kids and teenagers are addicted to computers and gambling games
A great number of children today play for hours and hours in front of computers, caught in the traps of a virtual world populated with monsters and violence. Games were always a way of learning and understanding the world. For children and also for adults there exists a multitude of games developing intelligence, skills, and physical resistance and help people to get closer to each other, to surpass themselves or just to relax.
In the case of computer games things are exactly the reverse. A study made by scientists from the University of Indiana, USA, on teenagers between 13 and17 years old, showed that spending 4-5 hours in front of a computer with violent videogames stimulates excessively the region of the brain responsible for producing emotions, reducing the capacity of self-control, concentration and reasoning and causing increased aggressivity. Added to this are memory, learning, communication and relational problems. We talk of a real addiction, because when they are asked to give up the mentioned games, the teenagers become angry, agitated or even violent incapable to break from the “drug”.
A fourteen year old student related in an article recently published in the Romanian newspaper “Gandul”:“Sometimes, when I play a lot, at night I dream of those creatures. They create a state of dependency, that is, I want to play and finish the game and become very agitated. I like very much Counter Strike, GTA, Unreal, Alien vs. Predator, this is really scary. It has some effects that makes you scared in the night. GTA is not super-scary, it is a big city where you walk around, steal cars, beat up people and rob stores, it is really cool.”
The percentage of kids and teenagers that suffer from this addiction is so big that in the Netherlands they recently opened a clinic dedicated exclusively to computer games addiction. Used to the virtual world of violence, robberies and killings, psychologists show that the youngsters and teenagers have every chance to easily put into application such acts in real life. It explains the increase of anti-social acts too.
If teenagers can fall easily into the net of computer games, adults have even more variants at their disposal. Casinos and bookmakers are invading cities, especially in those areas where the cultural level and standard of living of the inhabitants is below the average, they offer them many opportunities to develop their addictions to roulette, card games, betting and even the lottery. “Unfortunately, the pleasure generated by the game doesn’t fulfill the emptiness in their heart or resolve any problems in their lives. On the contrary, they can create inner problems with incalculable results. Many players find refuge in games. They break from reality for a moment, and the hope of winning can be a reward to misrepresent the failures on other areas in life. The disillusion which follows after several turns, when the stake and the lost sum are both increasing, does nothing other than increase the physical tension to the point of depression and abandon. Then follows the ambition to recover the lost money, which makes them prisoners of a vicious circle”, explains psychologist Irina Dan in an interview given to the “Romania Libera” newspaper.
Shopping, not so innocent as it might seem
Consumer society gave birth to a new addiction, hard to understand for those who barely have some money to cover their expenses – the addiction of shopping. This addiction is maintained by a multitude of adverts which stimulate the desire for new. Women fall easier into the trap of this addiction having the illusion that “therapy through shopping” can cover frustrations and emotional emptiness. After purchasing the wished-for product they discover however that their empty heart was not filled and they start shopping again with the conviction that this time they will find what they need. The profits of the producers and the chain shops are thus assured.
The idea itself of supermarkets and malls, shop complexes and hypermarkets, where customers come in direct contact with a quantity of goods greater than they need, engage the temptations and encourage exaggeration in the sense of buying unnecessary products. Inundating costumers, by presenting an immense quantity simultaneously, is one of the factors which encourage addiction. In the same way things are usually paid for with cards instead of cash.
A study conducted by scientists at Stanford University showed that in the moment when a person sees a product, areas in the brain associated with joy and the desire to have this thing are activated as well as areas associated with displeasure to part with the respective sum of money. Payment with card is a kind of a trick which easily resolves this conflict. It is the same with payment by credit. That is why they are so intensely supported by big companies.
The same psychologists from Stanford University demonstrated that going shopping makes people feel more in the control of their lives and more satisfied. They explain this by the secretion of dopamine, which gives a state of satisfaction and pleasure similar to the one during an act of lovemaking.
As a response to the great tendency to consume, a group from the USA decided to treat their shopping addiction. The twelve friends decided that for a year not to buy anything other than the necessary things they needed: food, underwear, soap, toothpaste, etc. If something got damaged they tried first to fix it, and for replacement they resorted to borrowing or to shops where they sold recycled products. Their decision came following the messages given by the American administration after the Iraqi war unleashed, when the Americans were repeated that “it is a patriotic duty to consume”. In time this group became more numerous. Thanks to their blog on the internet, thousands of people around world joined them. They didn’t have to wait long for the effects. The group was accused by big companies of an anti-patriotic attitude and even of…economic terrorism.
Married with their job or intoxicated by their own job?
In the past a job was something necessary to survive. Today though, it is for most people a second or only “marriage”. We talk more and more about women married to their jobs, and in big companies competition and professional success create for some people similar satisfactions, for them, with the… sexual ones.
There are people who live only for their career, who spend daily 12-15 hours at the workplace, including weekends, who have neither families nor friends. But they have lots of relations – clients, colleagues, subordinates, and partners. Bosses appreciate them and promote them, admiring their loyalty and involvement, however psychologists name this group of people as workaholics, because their addiction to work is similar to the one of alcohol.
The intoxication of success makes these people feel content and for this success they go through all hardships. Fulfilling tasks on time, ticking off their agenda, the appreciation of the boss or the closing of a deal become much more important than spending time with their children, husband or friends, going out in the nature or reading. Many times they are divorced on the grounds that they are not devoted to their partner in the same way as their job.
There exist lots of victims for this addiction. Katherine Ward was one of the most successful lawyers, with a salary in the order of a million dollars. She killed herself by throwing herself off from a balcony of a hotel. In the suicide letter, she regretted the fact that she made too many sacrifices for her career. This act happened after the president of the company where she worked prohibited her to come to work on Sundays. For many years she spent almost all her time at work, where she remained constantly until 10-11 in the evening and she suddenly realized that all her life was reduced to her place of work.
Another “successful” woman, victim of her job addiction – director of communications, told to the Sunday Times: “Always I wanted to work, and when I obtained a job at a big bank I wanted to prove what I could do. You become addicted to work because you like it. I was always promoted, my life became just a row of dead-lines, meetings and delegations. I was leading the luxurious life which I always dreamt of. My job brought me satisfactions I never felt before, made me feel sexier and stronger. I was working with younger women whom I obliged to have the same schedule as I did. I didn’t understand them when they were telling me that they need to stay more with their families. During these eight years I worked I didn’t have the time to meet my friends and I felt superior, so much so that no man felt right for me. In the weekends, usual clothes seemed remiss so I used to wear the same suits I was wearing for work.”
Excess work, like a valve for personal dissatisfactions, or overtime realized constantly can have many negative effects. A study conducted recently at a fitness club in Great Britain on 2,000 people, showed that part-time employees are healthier and happier than the full-time employees. This is because the latter are more stressed, consume more alcohol, coffee and tobacco, have an unbalanced diet and sleeping problems.
In all these cases forcing and neglecting our own necessities causes health problems: depression based on tiredness, ulcers, intestinal and heart problems, deficiency of the spine, sleeping disorders. The frustrations and dissatisfactions accumulated in this way only help create other addictions.
This is how the society in which we live helps us to create and to maintain newer and newer addictions. It is a vicious circle from which we can escape only if we become aware that we are addicted to certain things that harm us. Only in the moment when we want to escape from this circle we notice how well fortified it is. Until then it might seem normal for us to have unhealthy habits. It is possible that a whole system would rise against us, trying to convince us to get back to it. Alongside the reaction’s of our body and mind, emotional blackmail or even rejection by those with who before we shared the “drug” will be part of this fight for liberation. Perseverance and the obtained results will cause those around us in time to follow our example. This system can exist only if we maintain it, consuming its products.
National Rapport concerning drug addicts’ situation in Romania- 2006 published in the National Anti-drug Association